How Anti-Zionism lays the basis for open antisemitism 06/07/05
Something new and sinister is beginning to emerge out of the left anti-Zionist movement. Left anti-Zionists like Sue Blackwell and Tony Greenstein are alarmed that there is an openly antisemitic current forming within their movment, represented by people like Gilad Atzmon, Paul Eisen and Israel Shamir. While these left anti-Zionists are quite right to fight against this openly antisemitic current, they also have to accept some political responsibility for its emergence. Left anti-Zionism is an institutionally antisemitic movement; right now this movement is giving birth to open antisemites. The British Socialist Workers Party has taken a step towards embracing the new current.
Anti-Zionists like Sue Blackwell and Tony Greenstein think of themselves as being on the left. They say that they are genuinely disgusted by antisemitism and that they feel no hatred towards Jews. This piece is not a personal attack on them; it is rather a political critique and an urgent warning that there is a new danger emerging.
I can understand why left anti-Zionists are angry with people like Engage, who accuse them of institutional antisemitism, even though they feel that they loathe antisemitism.
They are also angry because there is a huge campaign of organised violence and humiliation being perpetrated by Israel against Palestinians and they are campaigning against this. People like Engage seem to do everything they can to undermine their campaign against Israeli injustice. Instead of joining the campaign, we seem to close our ears to the real injustice and we seem to be obsessed, in a paranoid way, with antisemitism – which, in comparison to the occupation and to global Islamophobia, seems to cause insignificant harm right now. Engage appears to repeat the lies of Sharon and Sharansky: we seem to raise the spectre of antisemitism for the purpose of disabling the Palestine Solidarity movement. We remind the left anti-Zionists of those right wing Israelis who have debased the very concept of antisemitism by cynically using it as a shield to deflect legitimate criticism.
But we have been measured and precise in our criticisms of the left anti-Zionists. We have said that they are fighting for a politics and for a world-view that is effectively antisemitic; we have said that they are building a movement that is objectively antisemitic; we have not said that they are antisemites; we have not said that they feel a racist hatred of Jews; we have not said that they are motivated by antisemitism.
About Sue Blackwell, for example, we have said the following: the way that she singles out Israel as being the only ‘illegitimate’ state constitutes demonization rather than criticism. She does not criticise Israel’s bad policies but instead she understands its bad policies to be an inevitable manifestation of its bad (racist) essence. She wanted AUT to have policy of holding Israeli academics to a much higher standard of behaviour than any other academics. She was not, we said, careful to avoid using antisemitic imagery and narratives in her opposition to Israeli policy.
About Tony Greenstein we have said that his claim that Zionism is a form of Nazism is effectively antisemitic. He claims that Zionism is like Nazism, that Zionists helped the Nazis to carry out the Holocaust and that the reason they did this was because Nazism and Zionism shares a basic axiom: that Jews and non-Jews cannot and should not live together in Europe. This identification of Nazism with Zionism, we have said, licenses people to relate to Jews who do not identify themselves as anti-Zionists, as though they were Nazis. We have said that the left anti-Zionist story of how Israel was founded and why Israel is uniquely racist is based on a one-sided reading of history. We have criticised the way that this story puts Zionism at the centre of the world; it mirrors the way that open antisemites have put ‘the Jewish problem’ at the centre of world history.
We have used the analogy of institutional racism. The police force in London has a problem with institutional racism – it functions in an effectively racist way – but this claim does not rely on proving that individual police officers hate black people.
Similarly, we have said that left anti-Zionist politics has the effect of treating Jews and Israel as being essentially and unchangeably worse than other people and other states. The anti-Zionists don’t argue for this world-view because they feel a hatred towards Jews. It is not hatred that leads to an antisemitic politics, it is the antisemitic politics itself that is the problem.
We think that this effectively antisemitic world-view is dangerous.
1 It disables genuine criticism of Israel. Israel does not have to take antisemitic demonization seriously in a way that it would have to take opposition to its bad actions seriously.
2 It plays into the hands of people like Sharon, who mis-use the charge of antisemitism as a shield to deflect justified criticism.
3 The Palestine Solidarity movement has failed to build mass support for a just peace because it smells of antisemitism – and most people do not want to be associated with it.
4 It licenses people to relate to Jews and Israelis in our labour movement and in our universities in a racist way.
5 It functions as a programme for war against Israel rather than a programme for peace in the Middle East.
The clearest danger is that a movement that is based upon an objectively antisemitic politics is a breeding ground for antisemitism. It is inevitable that a movement based on antisemitic politics will create actual antisemites.
The left anti-Zionists have to take responsibility for the consequences of their politics and the consequences of the movement that they have played a part in building.
And now Sue Blackwell, Tony Greenstein and others have recognised that something new and alarming is happening and they have reacted with some clarity and with some courage. Gilad Atzmon is a saxophonist and an anti-Zionist. He has been politically formed in the anti-Zionist movement and he repeats most of its standard rhetoric.
But he goes further. Atzmon has begun openly, consciously and wilfully to argue for an antisemitic world-view. Anti-Zionists like Mark Elf, Roland Rance and Stephen Marks have rightly crticised Atzmon’s antisemitism – see this piece on Harry’s Place for the case against Atzmon, and follow the trail of links for the full story about Atzmon’s use of the Protocols of the Elders of Zion and his claim that any Jew who does not denounce their Jewish identity is objectively a Zionist agent. Sue Blackwell has removed the link from her site to Atzmon’s consciously antisemitic site. Tony Greenstein wrote a piece entitled ‘Why Palestine Solidarity activists must reject antisemitism’.
The British Socialist Workers Party has invited Atzmon to their showpiece Marxism 2005 event and they gave him a platform to speak at their bookshop. Those anti-Zionists who have recognised Atzmon’s antisemitism are campaigning against the SWP’s support for Atzmon. They picketed his talk at the SWP bookshop and they are collecting names for a petition.
The SWP have defended Atzmon, pretending that he is not an antisemite or a Holocaust denier. The SWP have for some time occupied the anti-Zionist territory that Engage has described as politically or institutionally antisemitic. By embracing Atzmon, they have taken a tentative step into a new territory; they are dipping their toe in the water of open and conscious antisemitism. There is still time for the SWP to step backwards; perhaps there will be a member’s revolt against this new development, but at this moment, they have made a definite move over this line.
Tony Greenstein, Sue Blackwell and many other anti-Zionists agree, I think, that the SWP have taken this step into the realm of openly antisemitic politcs.
Gilad Atzmon is influenced by Israel Shamir and he links to Shamir’s website from his own site. Shamir wrote the following about the anti-Zionists’ campaign against Atzmon’s antisemitism and the SWP support for him:
This is a talk he gave in Bookmarks, London’s Marxist bookshop; while outside, a group of Jews picketed and demanded to shut him up. … As Gilad was speaking in a Marxist bookshop, they [the Jews] sent antizionist Jews. Thus these protesters revealed their most important inner quality – they felt they weren’t antizionists of Jewish origin, but representatives of Jewry within the antizionist Left…. It is hardly a question of religion as these picketers are irreligious. Indeed, it is a question of spirit, the Judaic spirit we find at the basis of Zionism.
Paul Eisen is another anti-Zionist who has now positioned himself in the territory of open antisemitism and again, left anti-Zionists have criticised him for his claim that there is a Jewish essence by which the existence of Israel as a racist state can be explained; he is also criticised for his claims about global Jewish power and conspiracy . Eisen has been active in the British anti-Zionist movement, building an apparently respectable anti-Zionist campaign called ‘Deir Yassin Remembered’ that aimed to commemorate the massacre that was carried out by Israeli extremists in 1948.
Engage has said to the anti-Zionists that they are institutionally antisemitic; that when they say ‘Zionist’ often this functions as code for ‘Jew’. Left anti-Zionists have always angrily rejected this charge, saying that they are only hostile to Zionist Jews and not at all hostile to Jews in general. This new current of anti-Zionist antisemites answer us: “Yes. We mean Jew. We are antisemites. So What?”
There is another story this week that demonstrates the tentative development of open antisemitism out of the anti-Zionist movement and the complex connections between this new phenomenon back to the old politics.
Gush Shalomhttp://zope.gush-shalom.org/home/en , the Israeli Peace Bloc, has never been ant-Zionist in the sense that Sue Blackwell, Tony Greenstein and the SWP are. Gush Shalom has always been a living demonstration of the difference between genuine, intelligent yet militant criticism of Israeli policy – and politically antisemitic demonization of Israel’s existence – in which it has never indulged.
The symbol of Gush Shalom is an Israeli flag and a Palestinian flag side by side. Gush Shalom has fought clearly and politically against the utopianism and political demonization of Israel that is associated with the ‘democratic secular state’ slogan. It has never argued for war against Israel, but rather, has argued for a just peace between Israel and Palestine on the basis of the pre-1967 borders. It has supported Palestinians in their struggle against the occupation, and more recently against the wall that is being built across their territory; it has made heroic efforts to build a movement in Israel for a just peace. Gush Shalom also has a record of campaigning for the shaky formal equality that is afforded to Arabs who live in Israel to be made real. Gush Shalom has not fought for the destruction of Israel but for an end to the occupation; they have never demonised Israel as a uniquely racist state but have campaigned against Israeli racism.
Adam argued that Sue Blackwell and the anti-Zionist left is not motivated by antisemitism; I accepted that, but argued that their politics was, in itself antisemitic, irrespective of their psychological state.
Adam argued that we should understand if Palestinians who are at the sharp end of Israeli violence develop a hostility to Jews; I argued that politically we should fight against antisemitism in Palestine and that left anti-Zionists outside Israel who are not victims of Israeli violence have a duty to craft a politically clear response.
Adam argued that Israeli Jews are not currently victims of antisemitism; I argued that there are people in my union and in our universities who have an effectively antisemitic relationship to Jews and Jewish Israelis. I also argued that there are many people in the world who would like to see Jews driven out of Israel, or at least politically subjugated in a greater Palestine.
Adam argued that Jews are understood by the Israeli government, and by the Palestine Solidarity movement to function as extensions of the state of Israel – his point seems, here, to be that it is not entirely irrational, then, if some people take out their anger with Israel, on Jews.
We argued that AUT had an institutionally antisemitic policy when it singled out Israel and Israeli academics for standards and treatment that it did not apply anywhere else in the world; Adam found nothing objectionable in this singling out of Israel for criticism.
Adam argued that Israel has cried wolf so many times about antisemitism that no claim of antisemitism can be taken seriously any longer.
Adam argued that Israel should be understood as a settler colonial state in the same family as USA, Canada & Australia; we argued that this story of the foundation of Israel misses out the actual material circumstance that led to its foundation, which was the genocide of the Jews of Europe.
Adam’s central criticisms seems to be that we should fight against the occupation, which is causing huge and current human suffering and we should worry about antisemitism later; probably antisemitism will be much diminished if Israeli violence ends. So the key to ending antisemitism is ending Israeli violence.
This week in the Gush Shalom mailing, there is a link to an article in Counterpunch , which is written by Michael Neumann, a philosophy professor at Trent University in Canada. Gush Shalom add the words ‘full text of biting analysis’ next to the link to indicate what they think of this article.
Alexandra Simonon has already posted a critique of this article on Engage, so I don’t need to demonstrate its worthlessness here – or its absolute lack of depth or critical thought, or its factual errors and misrepresentations. But the interesting thing about this piece is its supercilious and light-hearted tone. I think that its tone demonstrates that this is another left anti-Zionist who has decided to take the step across the line from the institutionally antisemitic left anti-Zionist movement into the new territory of the openly antisemitic anti-Zionism of Atzmon, Eisen and Shamir.
Here are some quotes from Neumann’s piece. It is a hybrid piece. Its politics come out of the left anti-Zionist movement; its tone shows that it is moving towards the new territory of openly antisemitic anti-Zionism.
Undoubtedly there is genuine antisemitism in the Arab world: the distribution of the Protocols of the Elders of Zion, the myths about stealing the blood of gentile babies. This is utterly inexcusable. So was your failure to answer Aunt Bee’s last letter.
The progress of Arab antisemitism fits nicely with the progress of Jewish encroachment and Jewish atrocities. This is not to excuse genuine antisemitism; it is to trivialize it.
If Arab anti-semitism persists after a peace agreement, we can all get together and cluck about it. But it still won’t do Jews much actual harm.
Israel has committed war crimes. It has implicated Jews generally in these crimes, and Jews generally have hastened to implicate themselves. This has provoked hatred against Jews. Why not? Some of this hatred is racist, some isn’t, but who cares? Why should we pay any attention to this issue at all?
There is an explicitly antisemitic site called Jewish Tribal Review, which describes itself as a “compilation of links to online articles largely from mainstream media sources about Jewish and Zionist influence in popular culture, Jewish ethnocentrism, Jewish power, Jewish wealth, American judeocentrism and Jewish political lobbying.”
Jewish Tribal Review reproduce an email exchange between themselves and Michael Neumann. It is an extremely illuminating exchange.
JTR ask Neumann whether he thinks that their website is antisemitic. He replies:
“Um, yes, I do, but I don’t get bent out of shape about it. I know you’re site and it’s brilliantly done. Maybe I should say that I’m not quite sure whether you guys are antisemtic in the ‘bad’ sense or not… in this world, your material, and to a lesser extent mine, is a gift to neo-Nazis and racists of all sorts. Unlike most people in my political niche, this doesn’t alarm me: there are far more serious problems to worry about.”
Later in the exchange, Neumann comments
“Please do not circulate this. I’ll add that I have my own strategy regarding how to influence public opinion on Palestine. Some of it I keep to myself.”
“Well, as I say, it seems that you are an honorable man. I think the reluctance to name the problem (the JEWISH propaganda apparatus) guarantees Palestinian defeat.”
This is what Neumann has to say on the notion of political responsibility to JTR:
“of course you are not the least bit responsible for how others use your site.”
Neuman goes on:
“My sole concern is indeed to help the Palestinians… I am not interested in truth, or justice, or understanding, or anything else, except so far as it serves that purpose. This means, among other things, that if talking about Jewish power doesn’t fit my strategy, I won’t talk about it. And, implausible as it may sound to you, I believe I can do *much* more damage by staying entirely away from such issues. Finally, I have always considered politics a crude, simple business in which there is little place for theory. It is very valuable to know the history behind the conflict, even far behind it, but it is not always politically effective to discuss it, not least because there are always contentious points and side-issues…. Whatever you may think of the strategy, you can see that it would pull me in a direction far different from your own. This is not to say that the questions in which you are interested may not become very relevant once public opinion is softened up for them.”
JTR comments later on,
“I am inclined, despite your request otherwise, to post them at our web site.”
Neuman now begins to panic:
“I do object to posting the exchange, very much so. My messages were not thought out with the deliberation I would take in making public pronouncements, and there is absolutely no question but that Zionists could twist them and misuse them.
As the antisemites twist the knife in the side of the unfortunate Professor Neumann, he says:
“When I said that I would do anything, including lie and obfuscate, to help the Palestinians, I meant the same sort of thing that someone would mean who said he would do anything, including lie and obfuscate, to save the lives of his parents. … In fact I do not lie or obfuscate in anything I write, because that would hurt the Palestinians.”
OK, Gush Shalom have made a mistake. They accidentally peddled the nonsense of an antisemite when they ought to have known better. Sue Blackwell suffered a similar accident with Gilad Atzmon and she then removed the link to his website and made some moves to campaign against his antisemitic politics.
But my point is this: there is an antisemitic continuum that is clearly visible in the anti-Zionist movement.
It begins with a people like Robert Fisk in the Independent and the other liberal anti-Zionists in public life. The next level is the organised anti-Zionist left, people who were responsible for the academic boycott campaign, people like Sue Blackwell and Tony Greenstein. They are not antisemites but they are building a movement on the basis of an institutionally antisemitic politics. We then have the SWP, who link this left anti-Zionist milieu to the new current of open antisemites: Atzmon, Eisen, and then Israel Shamir. Michael Neumann is clearly in this group. And Neumann is happy to discuss with his openly antisemitic friends (who choose to humiliate him in public for his efforts) at the Jewish Tribal Review website. At the next stage along the continuum are neo-Nazis like David Irving and Ernst Zundel. Irving’s website regularly links to stories from the anti-Zionist continuum.
It is becoming clear how the antisemitic culture that has been built and defended by left anti-Zionists like Sue Blackwell and Tony Greenstein produces open antisemites and will produce an openly antisemitic movement.
The left anti-Zionists have to think about what political responsibility they are prepared to accept for these developments.
Adam Keller and Gush Shalom have simply made a mistake here, but they will perhaps want to re-assess their glib dismissal of the existence and significance of antisemitic politics in the Palestine Solidarity movement.
The Socialist Workers Party has made a clear decision to step over the line by supporting Atzmon. There is time to step back. Perhaps its members can force it to step back?
Lecturer in Sociology
Goldsmiths College, University of London